Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sweet lineup? Check. Sick graphic/name? Double check.

No doubt in celebration of winning On Tape's January poll, Kanye West dropped word that the North American branch of his "Glow in the Dark" tour, featuring Lupe Fiasco, N.E.R.D, and Rihanna, is coming soon. Dates are yet to be announced, but needless to say: !!!!

To satisfy other '80s-retro-meets-the-future cravings (like other Max Headroom-looking graphics, "e-paper" slap bracelets...or Connect Four), check Ye's blog.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The "On Tape" Opinion Page

This isn't a political blog, but if you've checked it out, you've probably noticed politics ocassionally creeping in...I'm a Washingtonian, I can't help it. You may have also picked up on my generally left leanings...again, Washingtonian (the kind that actually lives in the District) - can't be hepled. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself agreeing with the sentiments of Mr. Homosexuals-Are-Deviants himself, former Sen. Rick Santorum, in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed of his.

Santorum, now a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Institute in DC, addressed his belief that the newest generation of filmmakers, products of Baby Boomers, are creating work that can counter, or at least show the negative consequences of, the "free love" ideology closely associated with their parents' generation, and the attitude of relative ambivalence toward divorce and abortion it helped to create.

Now, I have little interest in e-debating the merits of culture war arguments, and I hardly think, as Santorum suggests, that movies like Juno, Knocked Up, and Waitress signify that the "recognition of life in the womb is going mainstream." (Is that not already a "mainstream" understanding?) But, as a product of divorce who has always at least struggled with abortion, those and other films by young filmmakers with similar messages have resinated with me for their positive themes.

As Santorum emphasizes, these aren't pro-life movies, with all the baggage and ambiguity that comes with that terminology. They are life-affirming stories, and, says Santorum, "There is lived experience, emotional understanding, hard-earned authenticity at the heart of these scripts. And pain." The strength of these films, as Terry Mattingly points out, is that they aren't preachy, as so many obvious, cloying message movies are. While such reactions might be "spoiling the fun" of pro-choice (with all the baggage and ambiguity that comes with that terminology) Juno almost-fans like Mark Harris, if any movie gets Rick Santorum and I to find common ground, I'd say it's culturally significant.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

R.I.P. Heath Ledger

I didn't post anything last week upon hearing news of Heath Ledger's death, as I thought it seemed presumptuous - who am I to eulogize someone, the New York Times? I'm nobody. Still, I've felt an unexpected degree of sadness since then, probably because it's a shame when a person's great work, just beginning, is cut short.

Ledger was breaking into the kinds of projects he'd been waiting for: the Times' Stephen Holden called Ledger's Oscar-nominated performance in Brokeback Mountain as good "as the best of Brando"; Terry Gilliam said, "He's going to be a much better director than I will ever be" (Ledger was preparing for his feature-directing debut); those of us following Dark Knight news closely, initially skeptical of Ledger as the choice for the new Joker, had been proven wrong by the film's trailer, at least matching Jack Nicholson for iconic impact.

I might not be adding anything new to the remembrances already out there, but Dark Knight director Chris Nolan's piece in Newsweek about Ledger is worth sharing.

Monday, January 28, 2008

"Do it like Pan's Labyrinth, except with more balrogs"

The news that Guillermo del Toro is in talks to direct what will most likely be two Hobbit movies gives me a bit more hope about the planned back-to-back productions, but I remain skeptical.

Also, it bums me out that such an arrangement would probably prevent del Toro from directing the final Harry Potter installment, as was rumored. Maybe his buddy Alfonso Cuaron, director of the third Potter film, could return...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ongoing series of actresses with unlikely albums

In part one, we saw Zooey Deschanel join forces with M. Ward to create She and Him.

In part two, word has come forth that Scarlett Johansson's (pictured singing with The Jesus and Mary Chain at Coachella this summer) debut album drops May 20th, and will feature ten Tom Waits covers and one original song. The record, Anywhere I Lay My Head, features the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zimmer, and was produced by TV On The Radio's David Sitek. Superhip!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The cheese to my macaroni

Well, this'd be a better post if I'd actually, y'know, been able to see the show, but Kimya Dawson (she of the on-hiauts Moldy Peaches and monopolizer of the kickass Juno soundtrack) played a free show last night at the exceptional Adams Morgan record store, Crooked Beat.

As expected, there was substantial overflow, and as I am wont to do, I arrived late, but - evidenced by fellow Washingtonian, Jobless Girl in DC - Ms. Dawson kindly played a portion of the set in the chilly outside for all the kids who couldn't get in. (With the Moldy Peaches, it's all class - especially when, in some parallel universe trickery, they wind up on The View.)

And at least I was able to walk away with some promotional swag - namely, Juno guitar picks. Honest to blog.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

One'll be cool

Remember when actress Zooey Deschanel sang real nice-like in Elf? Turns out her long-rumored album is dropping in March, and while you might assume from Elf and her cabaret act, "If All the Stars Were Pretty Babies," that her debut record would be made up of jazzy standards, it's actually a collaboration with indie wonderboy M. Ward - the duo even have name: She and Him.

Pitchfork tells us S&H's Volume 1 arrives March 18 on Ward's Merge Records, and they've scheduled sets at South by Southwest this spring.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

And on to the Oscar contenders...(Part 5)

More than just a "contender," actually, since, as of this morning, Juno is a Best Picture nominee. And deservedly so, because this quirky festival buzzmaker (filling this year's Little Miss Sunshine slot) is something special.

The film, directed by (Oscar nominee) Jason Reitman in a follow-up to his impressive first feature, Thank You For Smoking, gains much of its power from (Best Original Screenplay nominee) Diablo Cody's debut script. Cody's hilarious, biting dialogue is so stylized, it initially seems forced, but unlike many other drenched-in-irony indies, its core is endearingly earnest and sweet. Ellen Page (Best Actress nominee), a revelation as the title character, leads an excellent cast in the story of 16-year-old Juno's unexpected pregnancy, and the struggles and joys of growing up.

Fueled by a killer folksy soundtrack (look out, Wes Anderson), Juno - like the year's other standout comedy, Knocked Up - offers a positive message without laying on the cheese, instead establishing its own unique voice among the lexicon of thoughtful teenage dramadies.

Grade: A-

Monday, January 21, 2008

I saw it - and yep, it's alive and it's huge

Well, after months of obsessive online speculation, 1-18-08 finally arrived this weekend, and with it came Cloverfield. Turns out all the viral marketing background setup - aside from possibly filling in some story gaps for viewers who've been following it closely - doesn't even come into play in the movie, as many expected. And the film is stronger for it.

The ingenious device of the picture is that the audience witnesses a Godzilla-like attack on New York through the camcorder lens of its protagonists, and experiences it as they do, with no explanation or idea of what's happening. The premise is obviously indebted to a fellow guerilla-style hit, The Blair Witch Project, but Cloverfield is a reinvention of the genre, and its framing heightens the panic and chaos required of such a story to truly make you feel like you're there.

The result is a kind of minimalist blockbuster, which, with its slight $30 million budget, relies heavily on sound and dizzying scene setups to create its constant, heart-pounding intensity (it has aptly been described as more theme park than movie).

Still, it's a bit cheesy at times, and the creature creepiness - which we do, in fact, see, if not much - looks a little SciFi Channel-CGI to be satisfying after all the hype (but, really, what could've met all those expectations?). The story is great, though, because the monster is really secondary; Cloverfield is about a group of friends struggling to make sense of a situation beyond their understanding or control. And it's one exciting ride.

Grade: B+

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Consider me always up for a crazy animated movie

I know Michel Gondry is getting a little overexposed around here, but this, like most of his projects, is too weird and cool-sounding to pass up (plus, anyone who gives the world Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Dave Chappelle's Block Party deserves plenty of coverage, in my opinion):

Gondry is developing an animated feature with his teenage son, Paul, from a script by comic book creator Daniel Clowes (author of Ghost World). The feature, apparently told with a Ren & Stimpy-meets-Scarface feel, involves a dystopian future in which hair is the source of energy and an evil dictator forces people to create art. Huh. Paul's previous experience includes directing a similarly insane animated video for The Willowz' "Take A Look Around."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

More good news...

...about what has potential to be the coolest movie in the world. Or, at least, one of the coolest of the year. Where the Wild Things Are, directed by Spike Jonze from a script by Jonze and Dave Eggers, will feature songs by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Hippest children's book adaptation ever?

Wild Things is due in theaters this fall.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Accio more money!

Rumors are flying that the movie adaptation of the seventh and final Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows, will be split into two films - ostensibly, to cover more material. Warners didn't seem too bothered, though, when the longest book in the series, The Order of the Phoenix, actually became the shortest picture so far.

To me, this - along with word that the pending Hobbit movie may also be split in two - just sounds like milking the franchise for all its worth. Here's an idea: since the books get (mostly) increasingly long, why not make the movies increasingly long? No one cared when Return of the King was over three the time we get to Hallows, audiences will likely be expecting such length.

In any case, while Phoenix director David Yates has also signed for the pending sixth entry, The Half-Blood Prince, there's no word yet on a potential Hallows helmer. Although Guillermo del Toro, who has expressed interest, would be pretty awesome.

Monday, January 14, 2008

And on to the Oscar contenders...(Part 4)

Can a movie starring America's Sweethearts (Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in their first on-screen pairing) with fellow Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) and directed by Mike Nichols (The Graduate) - released in Oscar-baiting December - be considered a sleeper? For me, Charlie Wilson's War was just that.

Those expecting a sweeping wartime drama, or even a snappy, romantic comedy, have been dissapointed by Charlie Wilson. It has not been a box office smash. Critics, while mostly positive, have qualified their praise. But where other war-and-politics pictures might shoot for the epic, this one resides mostly in intimate backroom discussions.

Hanks's charismatic take on the philandering, larger-than-life US Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-TX/2) and his nearly single-handed efforts to fund the covert Afghani war against the Soviets is the best thing he's done in years. The same could be said for Sorkin, whose walk-and-talk dialogue pops in the back-and-forths of Hanks and Hoffman, who take to it well. Hoffman, as CIA agent Gust Avrakotos, is outstanding as the film's unlikely moral center, and has a great opening scene. Roberts - whose over the top accent, hair, and makeup make her (unintentionally?) come off like a southern drag queen - is Joanne Herring, "the sixth richest woman in Texas," who guided Wilson to the right people on his quest.

Charlie Wilson effectively balances humor with poignancy, and just as everyone is championing the once-obscure congressman's cause (hundreds of millions of dollars and dozens of downed Soviet helicopters later), the same people return to ignoring him when he begins talk of rebuilding post-war Afghan society. The original ending of Sorkin's script, somewhat famously, had Wilson watching smoke billow from the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. The picture didn't need it, as the implications hang heavily over its third act. "Sooner or later, God's gonna be on both sides," warns Wilson while a fellow congressman riles up a crowd of Afghanis in a refugee camp.

Charlie Wilson's War is a story of flawed people trying for great things, and the way the story is told snuck up and left me surprisingly stirred.

Grade: A-

Friday, January 11, 2008

How cool does this sound?

Johnny Depp and Christian Bale will team up with writer-director Michael Mann for Public Enemies, playing bank robber John Dillinger and FBI agent Melvin Purvis (who, Reuters tells us, said "Stick 'em up, Johnny," to Dillinger just before the gangster was killed), respectively. Enemies is an adaptation of Bryan Burrough's book "Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI."
As if that doesn't sound sweet enough, it's actually being filmed in the real Midwest (y'know, where Dillinger hung out and stuff). Incidentally, my dad's tiny hometown of Baraboo, Wisconsin - home to the Circus World Museum - is being scouted...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Slug stops writing raps, goes and plays volleyball

Indie hip hop kings Atmosphere are the latest to drop a free record exclusively online with Strictly Leakage, a self-proclaimed "party album."

Download it now to hype yourself up for the impending 12th entry in the duo's Sad Clown Bad Dub series of unreleased tracks - not to mention their 6th LP, When Life Gives You Lemons..., the duo's official 2008 release, arriving in April.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

I'd use the "Team America" theme song

The Wall St Journal recently ran a story about the campaign songs used by presidential hopefuls. While none of the candidates technically have "official" themes (that happens post-nomination), most have one standard, and a few in heavy rotation. Considering the hilarious potential of the dichotomy between boring politicians and the tracks they don't even know they're endorsing (remember The Boss's backlash when Reagan tried for "Born in the USA"?), it's worth going down the list and checking them out, don't ya think?

John McCain used to spin Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" (guess he felt the Johnny Cash cover was a little lackluster) to get his crowds revved up - that is, until the Heartbreaker ordered a cease and desist. Still, great song, good theme. Which is probably why George W. Bush used it in his 2000 campaign (prompting a similar demand from Petty), and Democrat Jim Webb also employed it during his senate campaign (Petty made no such request in that case).

Cash is spun by Fred Thompson, who uses the Man in Black's "I've Been Everywhere," no doubt trying to convey that, contrary to popular belief, he actually, y'know, moves around and does stuff. Again, great song, but aside from pointing out that it's the nature of campaigns to travel - and, I guess, that he has experience - not really sure what it says about his bid.

Rudy Giuliani, apparently trying to appeal to 13-year-old girls (did anyone else just shudder?) and southerners, digs the good-time-pop-country of the Rascal Flatts. 'Nuff said. Mike Huckabee prefers standard rock request "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, everybody's favorite bigots. Bit of an odd choice, but dude's a rocker, and he wants us to know.

"Mess We're In" by Los Lobos - a suprisingly awesome and obscure choice for a presidential election - is Bill Richardson's pick, showcasing his Latino and southwestern roots. A unique tune for a unique candidate. John Edwards backer
John Mellencamp is the obvious choice for the son of a millworker working for the working class (what, he's holding out for Bruce until the general?).

But from my point of view, the best campaign song moment - and indeed, the best thing Hillary Clinton's campaign has done, so far - has been the Sopranos finale-parodying video in which she revealed her theme. Too bad it turned out to be...Celiene Dion's "You and I" (cue trombone wah-wah here). Great idea, terrible song. In contrast, Barack Obama generally pumps in Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours" over the soundsystem. And that pretty much says it all, doesn't it? Do you want Celiene Dion or Stevie Wonder? I rest my case.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

D! 4!

Old news now, but Minneapolis's Dillinger Four told the Star Tribune a few weeks back that a new album (tentatively titled Civil War) will be in the works over the next couple months.

This bodes well for fans of the quartet's hardcore-meets-pop-punk sound, as they've been patientily awaiting a new LP since 2002's Situationist Comedy, D4's strongest record yet. Odds are good that Civil War will contain songs about the Midwestern working class' fight against suits and hipsters.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Under my umb-erella...ella...ella

It may include some seemingly random entries (right artists, but mostly not the songs I had in mind), yet I have to agree with Entertainment Weekly's assessment that Rihanna and Jay-Z's inescapable "Umbrella" is probably the best single of the year - or, at least, the catchiest...although Spin's Song of the Year, Kanye and Daft Punk's "Stronger," is a close second.

Friday, January 4, 2008

And on to the Oscar contenders...(Part 3)

Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd had a lot stacked against it: the commonly held Hollywood belief that movie musicals are still a big risk (especially gory, R-rated ones about scorned barbers who turn murder victims into meat pies); the potential backlash from the film's built-in fanbase, Steven Sondheim devotees who consider Sweeney among the composer's best work; Burton's generally hit-or-miss record; not to mention the fact that no one had ever heard Johnny Depp sing until just before shooting began. Somewhat surprisingly, though, the picture not only does justice to its source material - it's one of 2007's best.

To answer any initial questions, yes, everyone in the cast sings well, if much lighter and more airy than we're used to in its Broadway incarnations, where the show is basically an opera. And yes, some of the stageplay's flow is lost in translation to the screen (particulary, early on), but this is a decidedly different beast, and is as exhilirating as any version prior.

The color pallet and set design are pure Burton, and the director's considerable vision turns out to be a great match for the piece. While appropriately over the top at times, Sweeney is equal parts scary, pretty, and funny, as it should be. Although Burton mostly shows restraint, the film's first bloody scene is nearly ridiculous in its grotesqueness (I'm not complaining). Violence - even when larger than life - is essential to the story of Sweeney Todd.

Depp understands this, and while Helena Bonham Carter certainly looks the part of Mrs. Lovett (the owner of a struggling London pie shop), he inhabits the role, conveying with his eyes and body language what other actors have done with a house-shaking voice. Rounding out the cast are Alan Rickman, satisfyingly creepy as the judge who wronged Todd, and Sacha Baron Cohen (aka Borat), brilliant in his turn as Pirelli, Todd's would-be barber competition.

Ultimately, Sweeney Todd is one of those movies that gives one hope about Hollywood - that major studios and filmmakers are still willing to take risks to serve great stories.

Grade: A-

Thursday, January 3, 2008

And on to the Oscar contenders...(Part 2)

The two most immediately noticeable things about the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men are its quietness and seering, carefully depicted violence. On both counts, the film is unrelenting, and deserving of recognition for its boldness.

About five minutes in, you think, "Isn't there going to be any music in this?" And when you realize there isn't, ever - except for a bit of a live song, which provides perhaps the film's singular (albeit very dark) belly laugh - it's striking. The Coens have created another singular world, and the West Texas openness, casually eloquent dialogue, and colorful local characters of Cormac McCarthy's novel fit them to a tee. All three leads (Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem, who, as Anton Chigurh, has created a creepy icon on par with Anthony Hopkins's Hannibal Lecter) give commanding performances, and the movie is so beautifully shot - by longtime Coens cinematographer Roger Deakins - and edited that it somehow manages to be simultaneously slow and action-packed.

The meandering plotline involves the discovery of a standoff gone wrong, a suitcase filled with two million dollars left at the scene, and a psychopathic hitman on a bloody road trip to track it down, but the way the story is told is more important than what actually happens. From its initially baffling conclusion to its philosophizing protagonist and antagonist, respectively, No Country seems to try and say something profound about inevitability and chance, but mostly offers "the world is a bad place" as its statement - not that that's not a worthy observation. Still, the sparse atmosphere rendered so uniquely in No Country is the picture's real takeaway.

Grade: B+